A Norwegian mass murderer is suing the government over what he says are inhuman prison conditions—even though his digs would be considered luxurious in just about any U.S. prison.
Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, is claiming that the government has subjected him to "inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" during his incarceration, Agence France-Presse reports. A hearing on his conditions will be held this week.
In July 2011, Breivik set off a bomb in Oslo's downtown and then shot dozens of teenagers at a camp on a nearby island. In a rambling manifesto, he explained that he was fighting multiculturalism and Muslim immigration to Europe. He was sentenced to 21 years in prison for the killings, Norway's maximum sentence, which can be extended in five-year increments.
Since 2013, Breivik has been living in the Skien prison, about 100 miles southwest of Oslo. To the American eye, his living conditions look more like a nice college dorm room than a prison cell. He has access to three rooms, for living, studying and exercise, and his suite includes a television, a computer (without internet access), and a game console.
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This isn't the first time Breivik, 37, has complained about his living conditions. Last year he threatened to go on a hunger strike over the fact that his Playstation 2 wasn't updated to a Playstation 3, and that the rubber pen he was given wasn't ergonomic enough.
Now, Breivik's complaints go beyond just the amenities. He says that he is isolated from all contact with other prisoners, which has taken a psychological toll on him. His visits from family and friends are rare, and he generally only interacts with prison guards. His mail is also screened by the government, he says.
Breivik is "very stressed due to his isolation," his lawyer Øystein Storrvik told the AFP. His legal team plans to appeal all the way to the European Court on Human Rights if necessary, he said.
The government has maintained that his conditions are appropriate. “The measures which have been applied to the plaintiff… are well within the limits of what is permitted,” prosecutors wrote in legal documents.
The fact that Breivik thinks how he's living now is inhumane says a lot about the quality of the Norwegian prison system. From the outside, Skien prison looks like you'd expect: high grey concrete walls and barbed wire. Inside, though, there are classrooms and educational programs—Breivik is pursuing a political science degree from the University of Oslo while incarcerated. In addition to a computer in each prisoner's cell, there's a computer at every classroom desk, and most prisoners, unlike Breivik, have access to the internet. Many prisoners cook for themselves with sharp knives.
Skien also has a bright gymnasium that looks like it belongs in some idyllic suburban high school. This week, it'll be transformed into a makeshift courtroom for a hearing on Breivik's conditions.
Thanks in part to a focus on rehabilitating prisoners instead of just punishing them, Norway has a recidivism rate of about 20%, among the lowest in Europe and less than half that of the U.S., which is closer to 50%. It also has much lower incarceration rates and crime rates.
It's not clear whether Breivik has a good chance of winning his lawsuit for better prison conditions. But suffice it to say that most inmates in the U.S. would give a lot to live in a cell like his—even if their game console was only a Playstation 2.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.